Boilermakers Finally Break Through the First Round Tourney Drought, Beat #13 Vermont 80-70

Boilermakers Finally Break Through the First Round Tourney Drought, Beat #13 Vermont 80-70

Starters: PJ Thompson, Ryan Cline, Dakota Mathias, Vince(nt) Edwards Caleb Swanigan
Finishers: PJ Thompson, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Vince(nt) Edwards, Caleb Swanigan

Feature image from @Boilerball.

 

What happened?

Purdue, our Boilermakers, of West Lafayette, went to the NCAA Tournament, played in the first round, and won the game, against the Vermont Catamounts, 80-70.

*presses earpiece*

Yes. This has been confirmed. Purdue has won an NCAA Tournament game, for the first time since Robbie Hummel was in old gold and black.

We did it.

But, as always, Purdue made sure we got our daily dosage of stress along the way. And it was mostly because Vermont didn’t intend to roll over, as the 13-seed countered Purdue’s opening lead with a 13-0 run over a two minute span.

After a few early post touches from Vince and Swanigan, Vermont fronting the post forced a ton of Boiler mistakes. For a team lacking size, their ability to impede passing lanes to both Swanigan and Haas was impeccable. Vermont has done a great job all year limiting ball movement, forcing most teams into wing isolation-heavy offensive sets. There’s a reason they finished top 20 nationally in points allowed, opponent assists and rebounds per game, and free throw attempts.

Vermont controlled most of the first half, seemingly fueled by the thrill of playing in their first tournament since 2012. They forced Purdue into 8 first half turnovers, four of which came on poor post entry passes. I’ve been writing about Purdue’s entry passing since 2013, so needless to say this first half got to me. Several telegraphed passes, delivered by Vince and Swanigan, were easily intercepted and gifted the Catamounts a handful of extra possessions. In a tight game, with Vermont shooting sub-40% from the field, these extra possessions can be the difference.

Thankfully, we got to see Aggressive Vince tonight. I’ll talk about it more below, but Vince was attacking from the opening whistle. Swanigan and Mathias had great stretches, and Carsen Edwards was his usual shot-of-adrenaline self, but for some reason things didn’t click as Vermont was throwing everything at Purdue. Haas and Vince were missing some bunnies at the rim, the refs were calling some mysterious fouls, and things just seemed off.

And yet…Purdue shot 50% from the field in the first half, further highlighting the disparity between teams. Vermont was slugging it out, nobody on Purdue had it going, but a few swished jumpers from PJ, Carsen, and Mathias and Purdue was all of a sudden in striking distance.

Vermont’s surge was muted as wing Kurt Steidl, the senior who leads Vermont in minutes per game, went down with a strained knee in the final minutes of the first half. Knee injuries are the worst, and Steidl seemed to be ok after limping to the locker room, but didn’t see the floor for the rest of the game. Not how any senior wants to end their college career, #BanKnees.

And Purdue capitalized immediately. The first half ended with a Vince two-handed volleyball spike of a block, Swanigan gathering and launching a perfect outlet pass, and PJ Thompson sinking a jumper right at the buzzer. Purdue, after all that, led 37-36 at the half.

The second half, though stressful, can be boiled down to this: Aggressive Vince takes Purdue to a different level, and Caleb Swanigan is the best player in college basketball.

Vince kept attacking holes in Vermont’s defense, and his effort to get to the basket for easy looks finally paid off. 15 of Vince’s 21 points came in the second half, and the entire team did a much better job avoiding the forced entry pass as Vermont’s stout defense continued to deny lanes to Swanigan and Haas inside.

Vermont wasn’t going away, but Purdue’s attack behind Vince and Swanigan kept the Boilermakers in (ever so slight) control. Particular shoutouts go to Vermont’s Anthony Lamb (20 points, 8/12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists) for being a constant heart attack as Purdue was trying to pull away.

With 3 minutes left to play, we finally got it: a huge “bring the win home” stretch by Purdue (Boogie three, Biggie block, PJ massive three seen in the GIF of the night section). Of course, that exact moment was when the clock operator somehow forgot to operate clocks. Teddy Valentine was naturally involved in the 8-minute stoppage in play, and once play resumed the déjà vu nightmare struck again.

80 seconds left to play, Mathias fouls Trae Bell-Haynes on a three. He hits two free throws, misses the last, the loose ball bounces to Ernie Duncan, who hit this heart-stopping three to cap a FIVE POINT PLAY OH GOD WHY?

This year’s difference? Carsen Edwards, who didn’t turn the ball over, drew the foul, and calmly sunk two free throws to extend Purdue’s lead to 9 points with one minute to play.

 

The game was over when…

…what did the five fingers say to the face?

SLAP.

Biggie blocked three layups in the final three minutes of the game, destroying the hopes and dreams of Catamounts everywhere. (Do catamounts dream? Is a catamount basically a panther? Are they the same as cougars and mountain lions? Do they pretend they’re running in their dreams, twitching their paws? I have so many catamount questions.)

PJ and Swanigan iced the game with free throws, Aneesh woke up every single neighbor after that trio of Swanigan blocks, and all was right in the world.

Finally, Purdue got that tourney money off their collective backs. The next step is to relax, step onto the court on Saturday, and deliver Matt Painter a third career appearance in the Sweet 16.

 

Player of the Game:

A tie, and you already know who they are.

Vince(nt) Edwards was tremendous all night, despite 3 first-half turnovers. He finished with 21 points on 10/16 shooting (1/2 from three), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and zero second half turnovers. He recognized Vermont’s post defense in the second half, attacked razor-thin lanes in their defense, and used every tool at his disposal to jab Vermont to death. Honestly, one of the most impressive games I’ve ever seen Vince play.

National Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan wasn’t Purdue’s go-to player, but he still sealed the victory for Purdue…on the defensive end. All that on top of 16 points on 5/11 shooting, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 game-saving blocks, and 3 turnovers (only one in the second half). I’m done couching this: Villanova’s Josh Hart and Kansas’ Frank Mason are very very good, but Caleb Swanigan is the best player in college basketball and should be awarded National Player of the Year. I move to only refer to him as National Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan from now on, in similar fashion to World Champion Brian Cardinal’s post-2011 official title.

 

The Good:

  • VINCENT MALIK EDWARDS. What a day for Vince. Even though he telegraphed a few boneheaded passes in the first half, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play with this much fire for the entire game before. He was attacking the rim, decisive with his decision-making in the second half, and confident in his shot if given half an inch of space. Though Vince usually shows up for big games, watching him take over and force the National Player of the Year into a supporting cast role was incredible.
  • National Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan, as the announcers tonight put it, “a mountain of a man” and a perfect college basketball player. There was a stretch in the first half where I was concerned Biggie was shrinking, and that thought was swiftly kicked out of my head with a monstrous put-back jam that shook the Earth’s core. As Vince was taking over offensively tonight, Swanigan put his rim protection chops on display. His 7’4” wingspan stopped three crucial layups as the clock wore down, and
  • I’ve been waiting all year to do this: S P I K E. A L B R E C H T. Spike was awesome tonight, and seemed like a completely different player than we’ve seen post-injury. He attacked the paint and threw a few incredible kickout passes to open shooters, was like a pesky mosquito defensively, and filled in admirably while both Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline were in foul trouble. Spike must have some tourney magic left in him.
  • Carsen Edwards and PJ Thompson are sources of composure for this team, and (along with NPOY Swanigan’s growth) are the biggest changes from the past years. Without Boogie and PJ settling Purdue’s offense, a game like this might’ve come down to the very last seconds. Absolutely nobody wants that.
  • Getting a damn win in March for the first time since 2012. Also, avoiding the Painter conversation had Purdue lost in the first round again. Also, not feeling this nervous about a game for (at least) two weeks. Also, knowing that the way this team closed out close games in the regular season will carry over to the tournament.
  • The junior class came through for Purdue, as I stressed needed to happen in my post yesterday.

The Bad:

  • Clock operators that sometimes forget how to operate clocks, and clock operators who are somehow working with TV Teddy. Seriously, Teddy has a phenomenal ability to get on camera even when he’s not working the game. What a hero.
  • The referees tonight were astonishingly bad. They didn’t know how to deal with Haas’ size, they somehow thought Cline was Purdue’s most aggressive perimeter defender, and were wildly inconsistent with rebounding fouls all night. It’s remarkable that a refereeing team like this is allowed near the tournament.
  • Entry passing woes reappeared, and you can be sure Vermont’s strategy (paired with a refereeing crew that was letting a lot of off-ball post contact go) will be repeated in the rounds to come. I was hoping Haas would get a chance to punish Iowa State or Nevada in the next round, but if schemes like Vermont are repeated Purdue needs Vince and Mathias to take over more often.
  • Ryan Cline had a pretty awful night, referees notwithstanding. Zero shots attempted in 14 minutes, poor defensive positioning, and four fouls resulted in increased minutes for Carsen and Spike. Thankfully, the latter duo were great.
  • Haas/Swanigan switched onto shooters. This is consistently pretty bad, and both bigs are afraid to close out too hard (fearing an almost-automatic drive to the hoop in reaction). Haas allowed three straight open jumpers as Vermont kept running side pick-and-switch actions targeted right at the behemoth. Purdue’s high screen coverage communication needs to be crisper, especially against a dangerous guard like Iowa State’s Monte Morris.

 

The Ugly:

  • Knee injuries, they’re the worst.
  • Isaac Haas had a super weird night. He finished with 8 points on 3/8 shooting and 6 rebounds in only 16 minutes of play, and was frequently exploited in Vermont’s high screen actions. But he also had stretches where he overpowered Vermont on the offensive glass, and I get the feeling that if the refereeing crew was different Haas might have a different line. Either way, I hope to see a version of Haas that isn’t afraid to dunk on Saturday.
  • Weakside defensive rotations in the first half, which thankfully were completely solved in the final 10 minutes of play. Seriously, something clicked during that Spike Albrecht stretch, and every time a big slid over to help on a drive the weakside rotations were perfect. That stretch signaled to me that Purdue has the ability to lock down, they just need to tap into that controlled-desperation mode a little quicker. If the offensive firepower available on this roster is combined with a suddenly-clicking defense…woo boy. I’m looking forward to Saturday.

 

Moving Picture Thingy of the Night:

Maybe I should have switched this with Biggie’s block, but this PJ shot was the biggest of the night. Vermont was flirting with a run, and Purdue was experiencing the opening stages of a late game déjà vu. Then PJ steps up and hits a three from Saskatchewan.

Purdue has zero point guard issues.

 

Tweet of the night:

Boiled Shorts MiniCast: Purdue beat Vermont, the First Round Curse is Over

Boiled Shorts MiniCast: Purdue beat Vermont, the First Round Curse is Over

Matthew, Have a Seat

Matthew, Have a Seat

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